Riviera 47 Flybridge Convertible Review

Issue: March 2003
Manufacturer: Riviera

A couple of months ago Bill Barry-Cotter, the founder and driving force behind the highly successful Riviera Group, sold the company for a cool $180 million.

That is quite a lot of money, but it is 25 years since Bill started out, building the first Mariners from timber. After Mariner was sold Bill set up Riviera, in Sydney’s Terrey Hills in 1980, and started producing and selling the 38 out of Labrador, Queensland, in 1981. But the company’s momentum began with those first Mariners in the suburbs of Sydney’s northern beaches.

So $180 million equates to about $7.2 million a year. In those 25 years Bill ran very, very hard, to establish and build the Riviera brand. When you compare the size of Bill’s cheque with what many CEOs get, particularly the ones who take a large public company, turn it into a small public company then get tossed out with $10 million to ease the pain, I reckon Riviera’s new owners got a bargain.

I have no idea what Bill’s reasons were for selling, and I’m not planning to ask, but to an outsider it is obvious that Riviera has reached some sort of peak of achievement. The company has settled into its brand-new waterfront factory, it is dominating the home market and is strongly established in the export field, the secret to Riviera’s expansion and the pot of gold at the end of Bill Barry-Cotter’s personal rainbow.

The company flagship, the 58 Flybridge Convertible, was launched in 2002 and Bill won a round of the World Offshore Championship. The latest line of Rivieras, the style that started with the 40 and continues with this 47, also represents some sort of peak in Riviera development. With this range established, you can understand the company founder looking around, taking a deep breath and realising he has achieved what he set out to achieve.

The boat shown here, launched in October 2002, was only the third of the new-style 47’s. This craft had a pair of new-series 660hp Cummins QSM 11s, which Adam, from Sydney Riviera dealers Lee Dillon Marine, tells me are compact for their power. They are certainly quiet, and the total of 1320hp kilowatts are OK for cars, but boats need horsepower, certainly makes this boat of 18 or so tonnes jump. From rest it moves straight onto the plane and runs up to 33 knots at 2350rpm; Adam reckons it should be good for 34. This is a quick boat, and not only in top speed. If at, say 20 knots, you nudge the throttle the hull responds instantly to the increase in revs.

The smallest engine options are 615hp Volvos and you would have to assume that would be enough for mere mortals like you and me. Well, like me, anyway. The Cummins have electronic throttle controls, with automatic synchronisation, engine management and instant fuel consumption readout.

Rolling down Sydney Harbour at a fast planing speed with the clears down and the flybridge hatch closed (the flybridge is carpeted) you can chat at normal levels. I have absolutely no idea of how the 47 handles rough conditions, we chose the quietest, glassiest day of the year for our run. But going by its sisters performance and the well-established lines of this popular hull, she’d eat the rough.

If you have any doubts about electronic controls, you should have seen Adam bringing our boat carefully into the fuel dock, facing backwards and working both throttle levers with one hand, flexing the wrist to split them and spin the boat on its axis. Sportfishermen must love electronic controls.

No matter how a boat performs, what sells it to the family is the quality and the ambience of the interior. That means the interior styling and how it is finished. The 47’s trim throughout is predominantly wood. Wood went out of fashion years ago, because it made the interior dark, but now it is back, coated with ultra high-gloss lacquer, which reflects a lot of light “eliminating any criticism about darkness” and looks classy, classier than any other medium.

The Italians use high-gloss wood exclusively in their top-end boats, and Italians can’t be wrong when it comes to design. Wood satisfies the unspoken, unrealised need in all of us for a salty, nautical interior. This high gloss finish also gives the interior the atmosphere of the boardroom you wish you were invited to attend, or the penthouse apartment you wish you could afford.

The front wall of the 47’s saloon is solid, there is no lower helm station, so that’s where the television screen goes. There is enough seating around the saloon’s two dinette/settee areas to accommodate your family and most of your relatives, though you would be unlikely to want most of your relatives on your Riviera 47. The TV is wired to the Clarion stereo system for surround sound and there is also a unit in the owner’s cabin. The TV is a 15″ LCD display with DVD, all 12 volts. Headroom in the saloon is about 6ft 2in. Fishing rods stow in the roof hidden by a hydraulic drop-down panel. The galley is two steps down. There are three cabins; the owner’s stateroom is in the bow, with the island double bed and en suite on the port side. Amidships, to port is the smallest cabin with two medium-height stacked bunks. This is also where to find the washer/dryer.

The guest cabin to starboard has a double berth athwartships, a settee and a door in the front wall that leads to the second bathroom. This is also the bathroom that serves the ship. All three cabins have translucent circular hatches in the roof. Both bathrooms feature a separate shower recess and Vacuflush toilets.

Aircon, with reverse cycle heating is standard in all three staterooms, but I am not going to discuss the standard equipment/option list here, it runs to four closely-typed pages in very small print.

The relationship, in colour and texture, of timber and fabric and all the other surfaces on this boat is superb. You could be on a $1 million boat, or a $2 million boat, or perhaps even a $3 million boat.

In the front of the cockpit, on the main bulkhead, you will find a sink with hot and cold, and a big, big fridge, both facilities beneath moulded lids. Storage under the cockpit floor is immense; you could never fill it. Two of the three hatches give access to a vast underfloor space; this is where the cockpit furniture goes. The third hatch opens to a moulded bin, which holds barbecue and gas bottle; the bin catches and holds any mess that may escape from the folded barbie.

There is nice detailing here. The teak-faced sidesteps have been made big enough for sitting on. “Everyone sits there anyway”, says Adam. “Might as well be comfortable”.

The stern door, as on other recent Rivieras, has been redesigned so no water comes in when backing up. Hatches in the cockpit sides hold lines and fenders. The flybridge is huge; this boat carried the optional hardtop and clears.

There are two big, comfy chairs at the helm station for driver and observer; the helm station is offset to starboard to provide the walkthrough. Ahead of the helm station is a settee and dinette; to port is a settee with a padded end, which I guess, makes it a divan.

This boat had the Raymarine 1250 combined GPS and fish-finder, with 10.4″ colour screen. Autopilot is also Raymarine. There is a chain counter for the anchor; better than tying on a bit of coloured string every 10m, as on my boat.

The superstructure styling really suits this 47. Someone on board made the point that the boat looks smaller than 47ft, which was intended as a compliment, a big compliment unless you’re the sort of owner who wants everyone to think his 47 is a 90 footer. 

How to summarise ? Rivieras were always excellent value, but this latest branch of the family moves the brand into another category, well beyond good value for the money. It is good value at any money.

The other day I was looking at a new Monaro and it occurred to me that a very familiar home-grown brand has developed, through sophisticated styling and detailing, to the point where the Monaro can look Beemers and Benzes in the eye, without flinching.

Riviera has done a similar thing. I go back to what I said earlier. This 47 could be a $1 million boat or a $2 million boat. Which says something about Australia. Sometimes we’re the not-so-clever country; sometimes we’re a bit cleverer than we gives ourselves credit for.

The price of this boat as tested was $765,424. 

Story by Barry Tranter